Botanists surveying a remote area on Maui found something they didn’t expect – a species of fern previously unknown to science.
Named after the mountain on which it is found, Athyrium haleakalae was recently announced and described in a paper by Kenneth Wood and Warren Wagner of the National Tropical Botanical Garden and the Smithsonian Institution, respectively.
Athyrium haleakalae now represents the sixth single-island endemic fern or lycophyte taxon found on Maui. It is uniquely adapted to survive on vertical walls of streams, especially near waterfalls, and has the ability to withstand flooding torrents. Its small size, remote habitat and tendency to grow in such extreme areas may explain why it had been overlooked to date.
Several small colonies – only 300 known individuals found in a few isolated locations– are considered critically endangered because of threats to its limited habitat from invasive species.
Although the land area of Hawaii may be small, many inaccessible areas have yet to be explored and may potentially harbor other mysterious life forms waiting to be discovered.
According to Suzanne Case, Chairperson of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, “We may have lost species but there’s still so much to protect in Hawaii. By focusing our efforts on relatively intact native forests, we’re safeguarding the magnificent diversity of species and cultural resources within – including species both known and unknown to science. And for us, that’s exciting.”